Sugar and Salt

16th December 2008, Nazca, Peru
We're finally getting to catch up with ourselves in a little oasis near Nazca called Huacachina with a pool at our hotel and not much to do apart from eat, sandboard and email, of course. We seem to have been so hectic, squeezing in so much in a short time. We now need a couple of days to rest so I can hopefully catch up with my emails. Be warned, there may be a few...

On our way to Uyuni, a desert town in the south of Bolivia, we decided to pop in on Potosi, and pretty, whitewashed Sucre - which is the oldest university town in Bolivia.

Potosi is now a very poor mining town but was once the biggest, richest and highest altitude city in the world. It still is the highest! (God they love their world records in South America, don't they!) Its wealth was due to the Cerro Rico (Rich Mountain) above the city which was choc-a-block with silver and dead miners. They say that for every ten men that went in the mine, only three made it out alive.

The mine is still in action although the silver is all long gone. They now mine minerals. Conditions are archaic and inhuman and apparently there is a huge workforce of children working in there in 40 degree heat as well as the extreme altitude- 3,800 metres. There are toxic gases, damp and regularly collapsing mine shafts. It's barbaric! The miners all drink raw cane alcohol, chew coca and smoke strong black tobacco cigarettes to cope with the conditions, and avoid eating as it absorbs all their energy and oxygen at that altitude. They often stay underground for days at a time. The city does really have a very depressed air about it, so we only passed through rather briefly.

Sucre was very pretty with a lovely market and a more upbeat, young feel, but I had my bag stolen when we were in a restaurant there with my phone and camera in it.

Gutting, but it did lead to very amusing evening in the police station, culminating in a young policeman telling me I had beautiful green eyes. He managed to produce a police car out of nowhere with three police escorts to take us to the "crime scene" to do a "full investigation." They were all giggly and asking questions, trying out their English, about whether we were single, how old we were and whether we knew various bars etc. It all had nothing whatsoever to do with the police process! I finally managed to get a police report the next day from a slightly more professional and older policeman.

We then had an exciting excursion to see a wall of fossilised dinosaur footprints, the biggest of its kind in the world. This entailed boarding the ´Dino bus´ - a rickety, open top truck with the motor of a moped and two large, scaly, dinosaur hands protruding from the front of the vehicle. We had a very enthusiastic tour from Juan Carlos where we learned lots about dino stuff. It was like being on a school trip but without being told off! Note, I am giving no dino-facts as just like in school, I've forgotten them already!

After a very bumpy eight hour bus ride to Uyuni, with everything in the luggage rack, including a big tool box, falling off on to people's heads, we arrived and met our Irish friends. We then booked a 4x4 tour of the famous salt flats at Salar de Uyuni and arranged to be dropped off afterwards in San Pedro de Atacama in Chile.

Uyuni salt flats were totally amazing, the whole tour just blew me away. It was three days and two nights.

The first day we visited a train graveyard where they stripped anything useful from the trains and then dump them in the desert. Quite eerie. Neil, it would have made you cry. There were lots of other ´´kind but stupid´´ engines there!

Then we drove out into a whole desert made of salt from an ancient lake which dried up but still releases the salt. It was completely flat and white as far as the eye could see with thick, hexagonal plates of salt. It looked exactly like ice but it was baking hot and we could see mirages and floating rocks and mountains that were not attached to anything. It sort of blended into the sky. In the middle was what was once an island, covered with giant cactuses and a cave made of fossilised coral where we hung out taking silly photographs and eating lunch.

The evening was spent in a hotel made of salt - tables, chairs, beds, floor covering, walls etc. the whole lot! I produced my standard carton of red wine in the evening, after a spot of high altitude desert star gazing, and managed to spill some. But it didn't matter as it was immediately absorbed by the salt - as was any trace of liquid in our bodies by the morning! I was like a giant, embalmed prune! Salt just absorbs all liquid! A salt hotel is a nice idea but not very practical.

We dragged our dry, crispy bones up to watch the sun rise over the salty white desert. We then spent the day visiting different coloured lagoons out there in the middle of the desert. They were bright red and green because of the minerals. They were full of flamingoes, and had huge volcanoes - one of which was smoking. It's just so high and dry that it's hard to do anything apart from stand and look at stuff.

We saw a broken Andean fox, probably run over by a 4x4 full of tourists, who literally chased our vehicle, in a very hobbly three-legged way, so we stopped to give it some biscuits which was all we had but it seemed chuffed. It just seemed very wrong somehow.

We slept in a cold dorm at 4,200 metres in the middle of nowhere. We felt a bit like prisoners actually and to add to out prison style punishment, were had to get up at 4am. and minus 10 degrees, with no lights in the icy darkness. We left before breakfast to visit steaming geysers and arrived at some open air hot springs to watch the sun rise. We climbed in despite the innate wrongness of getting undressed in the open air in sub-zero temperatures before the sun had even risen!

The springs felt totally boiling but the view was stunning and we were surrounded by three types of flamingo in our steaming natural tub at 5,000 metres at the foot of a volcano. Best sunrise yet!! When we got out, we were served a pancake breakfast and whisked off to Chile!

Chile is a whole other story though! Off for some lunch now, next one will be Chile and the Colca Canyon, xxx